New Partisanship: GOP marginalized, but Dem divisions remain

By Gorman Gorman

Sep 11, 2009 8:26am

By RICK KLEIN Somewhere between Sarah Palin and Joe Wilson, not to mention the facts of the legislative process and the growing sense that something's getting done, this was a rough week for Republicans — insofar as they want to be relevant to health care reform efforts, or to be treated by the press as such. But caring less about what Republicans have to offer means caring more about what Democrats are saying — and the search for party unity remains, intense as ever. If Rep. Joe Wilson had muttered something to himself instead of sharing two particular words with the world, the highlight out of the president's speech may well have been his willingness to ditch the public option. Or maybe it would have been the continuing struggle for moderate Democratic votes, and delayed talks inside and outside the Finance Committee. Or the fact that, behind the discusison of new details, there's plenty that still isn't known about what precisely President Obama would sign. Remember those heralded bipartisan gatherings? What does it say that it was all centrist Senate Democrats at the White House Thursday? (And remember that every nudge to the center earns a push from the left.) ABC's Jake Tapper, on "Good Morning America" Friday: "Sources say the president showed flexibility when discussing the government-run public option. ‘It's part of health care reform,' the president said. ‘It's not health care reform.' " And: "President Obama surprised some of the assembled by having Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag make a presentation making the case that the health care reform plan the president will ultimately sign will be fiscally balanced and won't increase the deficit," Tapper reports. (One of the senators at the meeting — Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. — is a guest on's "Top Line" Friday, noon ET.) Add to that a bombshell timed for a date that will have special meaning for as long as those alive in 2001 remember it: "The leading Senate Democrat on military matters said Thursday that he was against sending more American combat troops to Afghanistan until the United States speeded up the training and equipping of more Afghan security forces," Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger write in The New York Times. "The comments by the senator, Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, illustrate the growing skepticism President Obama is facing in his own party as the White House decides whether to commit more deeply to a war that has begun losing public support, even as American commanders acknowledge that the situation on the ground has deteriorated." Plus: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she sees little congressional support for boosting troop levels in Afghanistan, putting the Democratic majority in Congress on a possible collision course with the Obama administration over the future conduct of the war there," The Wall Street Journal's Yochi J. Dreazen and Naftali Bendavid report. "The remarks Thursday by Ms. Pelosi (D., Calif.) make her the highest-ranking Democrat to signal opposition to the administration's handling of the Afghan war, a top national-security priority." This is, as has been often noted, President Obama's war — made more so by the fact that a dwindling number of Democrats want to own it with him. (As for the ironies of an anti-Iraq war candidate being associated with an escalation in Afghanistan — it's not lost on House progressives, either.) On health care, the White House is moving quickly to capitalize on what it can out of the speech, with a rally Saturday in Minnesota, and a "60 Minutes" interview Sunday. Yet it wasn't just progressives who found something to be nervous about in the president's address to the Joint Session of Congress: "If President Barack Obama was looking for a big bounce in support from lawmakers Thursday from his health care address to Congress on Wednesday night, he didn't get it," McClatchy's William Douglas and David Lightman report. "Predictably, Democratic leaders of Congress praised Obama's speech effusively, and Republicans in both chambers remained unmoved. However, several rank-and-file Democrats said that the president made only incremental progress, at best, toward moving health care legislation forward, and that lawmakers could backslide at any time." No Republican movement, and: "More troubling for Obama were the mixed signals from Democrats who, absent any signs of significant Republican support, have increasingly become the focus of the president's lobbying effort," writes Ceci Connolly of The Washington Post. "Although virtually every Democrat found something to like in the president's 47-minute address, the interpretations of what he meant varied widely, suggesting more difficult negotiations ahead." "We all understand that we want to move toward universal coverage, but I don't think we're focusing enough on costs," said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis. What of the pay-fors? "With Obama this week declaring ownership of the plan to enact the most extensive changes in health care in more than four decades, the White House's reluctance to break down how it would finance the measure is rankling some lawmakers," Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman and Mike Dorning write.   " ‘That's the legislative process,' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as she and other Democrats shifted from praising President Barack Obama's health care speech this week to the less glamorous task of trying to negotiate a bill that will pass muster with a host of opposing factions," the AP's Erica Werner reports. New task: "White House aides said Vice President Joe Biden would work to round up votes in the Senate, as he did in the final push to pass the $787 billion stimulus bill in February," Greg Hitt and Jonathan Weisman report in The Wall Street Journal. On the left: "The administration's inability to close the gap between expectations and reality is a boon for progressives members of Congress trying to maintain the 40 vote firewall necessary to keep any health care bill from passing that does not have a public public option," FireDogLake's Jane Hamsher writes for Huffington Post. In the center: "If there is no meaningful competition after a couple of years, we would create competition through a public plan," Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said of the trigger plan he discussed with the president, per ABC's Teddy Davis. Can this standard be met? "If the details live up to the quality of the speech, then it's a good plan," Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., a key Blue Dog, told the Los Angeles Times' Noam M. Levey. (Plus: "I wouldn't spend a lot of time on what the Senate is thinking. They are not thinking, quite frankly," said House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y.) You haven't heard this before, have you? "Yesterday the group, called the ‘Gang of Six,' appeared to be inching closer to a deal, a development that might have helped by chairman Max Baucus's announcement Wednesday that he will begin drafting legislation next week, with our without Republicans," The Boston Globe's Lisa Wangsness writes. "If anything, the President's speech has given the negotiators more, not less, to think about,"Time's Jay Newton-Small writes. How it's playing out there: "Virginia's Republican candidate for governor worked Thursday to tie his Democratic opponent to controversial efforts by Democrats in Washington to reform the nation's health-care system, a day after a major address by President Obama to Congress on the issue," Rosalind S. Helderman writes in The Washington Post. Charlie Cook finds three parties inside the Democratic Party (only three?): "If the folks in the Obama White House are right that an economic turnaround will ease their political problems, that's great for them. But if the Democrats' problems are deeper and more fundamental, an economic recovery may not do the trick," Cook writes in his National Journal column. What uniting them means: "While [the president] will have to immerse himself even more in the details and in the legislative back-and-forth in the weeks to come, he will also have to rededicate himself to making the larger case that will reassure the public that the whole exercise is worth it," Time's Karen Tumulty writes. "How well he achieves that balancing act may determine the shape of the bill that finally reaches his desk — or whether he gets one at all." What deficit-neutrality means: "The Dime Standard also sets off a political cascade," David Brooks writes in his New York Times column. "Since the Congressional Budget Office is the universally accepted arbiter in such matters, the Democrats have to produce a bill that the C.B.O. says is deficit-neutral, now and forever. That means there will be a seller's market for any member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, who has a credible amendment to cut costs. It also means the Democrats will have to scale back coverage and subsidy levels to reach the fiscal targets." What Joe Wilson means (other than a cash cascade for his Democratic opponent — and national money for Wilson, R-S.C., himself): "The rare lack of decorum on the House floor as Obama addressed lawmakers could provide [Obama] with a much-needed opening to retake control of the national conversation over a health care overhaul by turning off Americans to his critics' acerbic claims," the AP's Liz Sidoti writes. "Or, people could dismiss derisive laughter and head-shaking from Republicans and embrace the opposition's broader argument that Obama's prescription for the ailing health care system would expand the government's reach into people's lives." "Joe Wilson's outburst Wednesday night earned more than a personal rebuke from the president and a dagger-eyed gasp from the speaker of the House; it drew winces from Republicans worried that their party is becoming known less for the power of its ideals and more for the pettiness of its vitriol,"Politico's Andie Coller writes. "Obama escaped the assault both unruffled and unscathed," Kathleen Parker writes in her Washington Post column. "Though he may have stolen the show, Wilson may have lost his audience." Eugene Robinson: "[Obama] threw Republicans a bone on tort reform. And he drew one bright line in the sand: Throw spitballs all you want, but this will be done." House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence, R-Ind.: "I was disappointed with my colleague's statement on the House floor," Pence said on's "Top Line." "But candidly, I was also disappointed when the president said that his critics were lying. I don't know that there's any precedent in American history for the president of the United States coming to the well and leveling that kind of an accusation at his critics." Meet your new hero (odds that he'll speak in primetime at the next Republican National Convention?): "The Palmetto Scoop, a conservative Web site featuring political news and commentary, is offering free ‘I'm with Joe Wilson' T-shirts," per ABC's Teddy Davis. Jake Tapper checks the facts: "Do President Obama's proposed reforms apply to those in the U.S. illegally?  No. To recap on what CRS says: Does the House bill provided subsidies to illegal immigrants? No. Would the House bill require illegal immigrants to have health insurance? Some of them, yes." Coming up on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos": An all-start health care panel with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn.; and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. The roundtable: George Will, Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, and David Brooks. Organizing for America is weighing in to get Ted Kennedy's Senate seat filled: "Last night, President Obama strongly laid out the case for why we so urgently need health reform, and he mentioned a letter Sen. Kennedy wrote to him before his death," John Spears, OFA's Massachusetts state director, wrote in an e-mail to supporters yesterday. "But right now, under current Massachusetts law, Sen. Kennedy's seat will remain vacant until January — depriving us of full representation in the Senate and depriving the country of a needed vote in favor of real health reform. So we need to make sure that Gov. Patrick can appoint an interim senator until a special election can be held." The Cheney wars continue… From two former high-ranking generals: "To argue that honorable conduct is only required against an honorable enemy degrades the Americans who must carry out the orders. As military professionals, we know that complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality. Moral equivocation about abuse at the top of the chain of command travels through the ranks at warp speed," Charles C. Krulak, former Marine commandant, and Joseph P. Hoar, former commander of the US Central Command, write in a Miami Herald op-ed. Incredible shocker of the day: "President Obama's economic advisers estimated Thursday that the economic stimulus package has saved or created about 1 million jobs, drawing immediate criticism from Republicans," USA Today's Matt Kelley writes. "How can anyone tell the American people with a straight face that the more than 2 million jobs that have been lost since the stimulus was enacted is actually 1 million jobs ‘saved or created?'"Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. Friday will be filled with ceremonies and remembrances: "Vice President Joe Biden will lead past and present area governors and mayors of New York City as well as relatives and friends honoring 2,752 people who perished in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center," per Bloomberg News' Henry Goldman. "President Barack Obama and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will host a private memorial service at the Pentagon for families of the 184 government workers and plane passengers who died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the headquarters of the Defense Department at 9:37 a.m." And finally — a 9/11 obituary with special meaning to this author (and don't miss the photo): "Like most of the country on Sept. 11, 2001, Jack Canetti watched the World Trade Center fall on television. Like millions of transplanted New Yorkers, he felt a deep connection to the twin towers, those gleaming monuments to heights achieved," Andrew Meacham writes in the St. Petersburg Times. "But Mr. Canetti's history with the towers was considerably more intimate than most Americans': He built them."
The Kicker: "I think that was quite a long time ago, wasn't?"– Senate candidate Rob Simmons, R-Conn., when the state Democratic Party demanded that he return donations from Rep. Joe Wilson.  "I love coffee, but I don't have time to drink it and I don't have access to it." — Rep. Joe Wilson, to The Hill in 2007, on his habit of popping NoDoz pills.
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